Programming note: Watch Wednesday's 49ers press conferences with Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin and Patrick Willis live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area at 11:55 or streaming live right here
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks hate each other. We have heard this every day for going on a year and a half now, and we all have come to believe it enough to use it as a staple of pregame analysis for Sunday’s NFC Championship.
But as a central motivator for either team . . . uhh, no.
The problem is that hatred is a tough enough thing to manufacture, let alone nurture, when all around you are saying, “You have to maintain your composure, you can’t take stupid penalties, you have to keep your focus.”
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In other words, this actually isn’t about hatred at all, not as we understand hatred. This is about two teams who want the same thing, and each has one handful of it. And this is about two coaches who view the other as tactical enemies more than as true objects of loathing.
Put another way, do you think Harbaugh hated Carroll at the end of the famous 55-21 Stanford win over Southern California, or do you think he was sending a message he knew would reverberate to his players and future players?
The answer is “B.” Trust us on this. No coach worth his Wal-Mart pants wastes a lot of time on hate. He wants to acquire more than he wants to make other people sad; that the two things are byproducts of each other is merely a happy coincidence.
But we want this to be about hatred, because we like the sound of hatred more than we like the sound of competition. Competition is a cliché, and a candypants word. You can’t sell competition the way you can sell hatred.
This, though, should be said up front, even in the face of what the regular citizens most desperately want. The team that hates more will lose.
Hatred is, you see, irrational. It cannot be controlled. It ruins plans, and football is nothing without metric tons of planning. Hatred is great on Tuesday, but it is useless on Sunday.
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If hatred mattered, you wouldn’t have players talking smack after plays and trying to goad opponents into silly penalties. Players are trying to get their foes TO hate, not hate themselves.
Even the two coaches, What’s Your Deal I and What’s Your Deal II (courtesy Dr. Seuss), don’t actually hate each other . . . well, maybe they do, but only a little, and probably more in the off-season when they have more free time for luxuries like hatred. Frankly, they are too much alike to truly hate each other; it would be like flipping off your shaving mirror, and who do you know who has done that and not felt like a moron?
Most of this talk of hatred, actually, is because the 49ers haven’t really had an archrival for years now, and the Seahawks never have. The 49ers could always claim the Cowboys or Giants or Packers, but in their glory days they owned the NFC West, and in their more recent lousy days, it didn’t matter whom their rivals were except on Draft Day.
In short, the division was either the 49ers’ prop, or the 49ers propped up the division.
And the Seahawks? Historically, they’ve just been trying to get by, and only recently have they become a target for the rest of the membership. The 49ers just happened to pull out of their decade-long barrel-roll just in time to give the Seahawks’ fan base someone to snarl at. They’d be trying to keep Washington fans out of Century Link Field Sunday if the Shanahans had reached the conference final rather than ruining that potential rivalry by going 3-13 and getting fired.
So go ahead and cite hatred all you want, but this isn’t about hate – except by the team that wants to lose. Richard Sherman talks as a prelude to his walks, a tactic rather than a statement of purpose.
And that’s Sunday – a mutual game of tactics toward a goal that only coincidentally involves the other. You can afford to hate from your couch, and if you must hate, choose people you love. They’re slightly less likely to brain you.
Just don’t expect it from the 49ers and Seahawks. They have too much work to do. Maybe they can help you at the Pro Bowl next year.